Delegate or Derail

Staying on Track in Challenging Times

by Sharon M. Gazda

In the past six months, I have observed a trend while coaching senior managers. The topic of delegation, and the challenge it presents, is coming up in every session. This is not a surprise given today’s work environment with tighter budgets, fewer resources, and less time. Managers are responding by taking on more work. However, this reaction is counterproductive and may actually lead to manager derailment.

What is Manager Derailment?

Manager derailment is the result of behaviors that cause managers to overestimate their own capacities, lose sight of how their actions impact others, and alienate peers and subordinates. Such behaviors can have a detrimental impact on organizational effectiveness, financial performance, and the “climate” of the organization. Failure to delegate is one of the leading causes of manager derailment.

As the work environment continues to get more complex and competitive, demands on managers are increasing and changing. Managers must empower employees and then hold them more accountable. What’s more, they must be able to maximize employees’ knowledge and experience to get the results they want.

When the pressure is on, delegating is the most crucial of all managerial skills needed to stay on track. 

Why Delegation Fails

Although effective delegation is recognized as one of the skills of exceptional managers, many hesitate to assign tasks to others, thinking they personally are the only one who can do the job well. Even when managers have the best of intentions, the inability to let go can create real problems in the workplace.

Generally, there are reasons why delegation fails such as:

  • Lack of planning. Outside factors, such as a fluctuating economy and organizational shifts, pressure managers into acting in a reactionary, crisis mode. They don’t dedicate the time needed for thoughtful reflection when, in fact, that is when it is most needed.
  • Need to manage the whole task. Too often managers don’t step back and look at all the activities and tasks they perform, believing it is faster and easier to do what’s familiar to them. Unfortunately they use their time ineffectively, negatively impacting their overall success.
  • Lack of training. Effective delegation is a skill – it must be learned and practiced. To delegate effectively, there are steps in the process. It’s not just “Do what I tell you to do.” It’s important that you don’t mistake delegating for dumping. Studies show employees are highly motivated when they have challenging assignments and variety in their work. Conversely, morale will sink if employees feel you’re taking advantage of them.
  • Fear of failure. Letting go is not easy. Sharing your work and responsibilities involves taking risks. Any successful manager will admit he or she was anxious when moving from a hands-on supervisor role to management. Insecure or inexperienced managers may not accept or recognize the performance of their employees, fearing that if someone else can do the work better than they can, they open themselves up to being replaced.

Delegation Basics:

  • Start with the end in mind – be clear about what results you expect
  • Delegate the whole job, not pieces
  • Make certain to provide the proper level of resources and authority
  • Actively review progress and follow up
  • Make certain you track all assignments and ensure that everything is on track to head off potential problems.

Delegation for Success:

  1. Plan your delegating strategy; write a list of all the major projects your team is responsible for.
  2. Decide which tasks only you can do, such as performance appraisals, disciplining employees, or handling situations that are politically sensitive or confidential.
  3. Decide which of the remaining tasks are high priority and high risk, and must be done within a short timeline. Be realistic. Not everything has to be done immediately.
  4. Determine which tasks can be given to others on the team. Are there certain items that are recurring or routine, such as monthly sales reports, budgeting or activity reports? Someone else can handle those duties. One point of caution: Provide adequate training on how the project should be done and, more importantly, clearly explain the goal.

In delegating responsibility, managers always should look for opportunities to encourage employee development. Get your team involved in learning new things and accepting developmental projects. If you establish a learning environment, you will, in effect, be training the person who succeeds you when you move up in the organization.

Most importantly, be sure to praise a job well done! Don’t worry about sharing the glory. If you help your staff look good, they will do likewise. Jack Welch, legendary CEO of GE, says his greatest pride was grooming people to become CEOs themselves. His best advice: Surround yourself with good people and get out of their way.

If you don’t, the good people will move on.

Sharon Gazda is President of Edizen, a small, woman owned business specializing in Employee Engagement, Coaching, and Leadership Development. Sharon is also one of the creators of a proprietary card system for managers, called ENGAGE: Connect at a Higher Level.

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